Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Minecraft, or what happened when my new gaming equipment didn’t get ordered & I had to punt

Earlier this year I put together all of my SRC programming and publicity at the same time we submitted an order for new gaming equipment. One of those programs was a Minecraft day. Except, sometimes orders get held up in processes and bureaucracies, which means that my new gaming equipment never actually got ordered. Which was only problematic because we had spent the last 3 months advertising a Minecraft day. But having done this for 20 years now, I am excellent at punting. So punt I did.

I do have an XBOX 360 and 2 controllers, and the game is available for the XBOX 360 – so let me take a moment here to make sure and say thanks to my branch manager who ran out the day before the program and purchased the game because I know she reads this blog ūüôā But I also spent the day before putting together a variety of other activities that were Minecraft related in some way that my tweens and teens could do while they waited for their turn to play Minecraft. Because with only 1 system and 2 controllers, it could get ugly. Here is my Minecraft Emergency Prep. I ended up having around 40 tweens and teens and they loved it. No blood was shed over those 2 controllers and a good time was had by all.

Paper Crafts

It turns out, there are a ton of Minecraft Papercrafts available readily online. Every single one of those teens at my program folded a Creeper face. But you can also print and fold a variety of materials and make Minecraft in the real world. For example, you can buy a set here at Amazon. You can find some free patterns here: Instructables

Post It Note Art
I have previously done some Post It Note art and it occurred to me that this would be a good way to bring Minecraft into the real world as well. My tweens and teens were challenged to make animals, faces, and swords on the wall using Post It Notes. It looks cool, but it takes a little teamwork to make it happen. Skills like math, organization and communication are subtly being taught here.

Lego Challenges
Using only the 2×2 Legos in my Makerspace, I challenged my tweens and teens to a variety of 5 to 10 minutes challenges: build a house, make an animal, make a story, make a face. This was hands down one of their two favorite activities of the day.

 Bottle Cap Crafts

For a previous event, I ordered a ton of Bottle Caps and have been using the leftovers for a while now. It was very easy to create some Minecraft themed circle inserts to make a new set of Bottle Cap Magnets. This was the other of their two favorite activities of the day – besides playing Minecraft of course. To make your inserts, you simply create a 1 inch circle in Publisher and use the picture fill feature to fill it with whatever you wish. Pictures, clip art or letters all work. Then you glue it into the bottle cap. I like to purchase epoxy bubble stickers to place over top. Other sites will tell you to buy and mix and epoxy resin, but the circles are quicker, easier, and make less of a mess. Then just slap a magnet onto the back and voila! Or, you can buy a special punch and turn them into charms, just add an “o ring”.

Minecraft Themed Duct Tape Journals
As part of my Makerspace, I have a large amount of duct tape on hand. And I had some blank journals left over from a previous event. So I challenged the teens to cut the duct tape into squares and make a Minecraft journal. The most fascinating part was that after they made the journals many of them started writing in them. One boy was writing down tips and cheats to play Minecraft. Another boy started writing and illustrating a Minecraft themed story.

Going along with the cube/grid theme, I also brought out Connect Four and Chess/Checkers for them to play while they waited. And many of them did. You could also use other cube/grid type games like Scrabble or Boggle.

I also brought two Rubik’s Cubes to do races.

As a side note, in my emergency searching I did find that lots of people make perler bead Minecraft things, but I didn’t have this on hand and didn’t want to purchase. But I also think you could use Shrinky Dinks for this type of an event as well.

For more on Minecraft, check out Heather’s post on what happened when she let her teens lead a Minecraft after hours event.

Minecraft After Hours & Letting Teens Lead… and Fall

Maybe it was because it was on Friday the 13th.
Maybe it was the heat, or all of the 5th grade classes I talked it up to.
Maybe it was those 4th graders who snuck in under the age limit.

Whatever it was, the Minecraft hangout and building contest that I hosted was both one of the biggest successes and most disappointing failures of my programming year so far. And that’s really been ok.

Here’s how it went down. Last fall I took a leap and started a Coding Club. In the months since, this group has grown tight knit and dedicated to both the idea of learning and playing with technology, and¬†the library. As we discussed what else we wanted to do, Minecraft kept coming up.

What could we do with it?
Could the library have its own server?
Could we turn Coding Club into a Minecraft club?

I try to say yes as often as possible, but these were questions it was hard for me to answer. I’m not a gamer. The knowledge these kids have far exceeds mine in this realm, and as a part time librarian, I know that my limited time means limited abilities. But these teens had seemingly endless time and endless enthusiasm for both the game and getting it into our building. After mulling over the possibilities, one totally uncoached statement was the deciding factor for me. A member said, “Everyone likes playing Minecraft. But even though a bunch of us are in the same neighborhood, we’re playing with people all over the country, or world. That’s cool, but it just makes sense that we’d want to meet each other too. And the library seems like the natural place to do that. It’s where a bunch of kids can go in town and it’s ok for us to be there.”

Sold. I think they even said something about “community building.” Be still my librarian heart! So I gave them the go-ahead with the understanding that I would assist them with whatever they needed, but that I would only be able to be that — an assistant and facilitator. The planning and execution would be up to them.

What if we built our own server?
What if I donate my server to the library?
What if we just have a building contest?
Can we have fabulous prizes?
Can we have pop and Doritos?

Prizes, pop, and chips I could handle. The server questions were harder, but week after week the kids worked on their server, creating an environment in which a crowd of people could build. Moms took me aside and asked my opinion on letting their kids play online games. Moms told me they thought I was wonderful for giving their kids a place to fit in. Moms thanked me.¬†Which was weird because I wasn’t really doing much. I was just opening our meeting room twice a month and listening for the most part.

Fast forward to last Friday night. Fabulous prizes in hand, snacks at the ready, we opened the library after hours and fifteen teens came in. That might not sound like a lot to some, but in a town where my SRP registration maxes out under 75 most years and I’m happy to get 5 kids at most programs, I was floored.

I welcomed the kids and introduced our illustrious Coding Club members, who went on to explain how the building contest would unfold, what the fabulous prizes were, the theme (design a symbol of what Minecraft means to you), and how to access the server. ¬†At which point we realized that Minecraft was down. After a half hour snack break, everyone rushed back to their computers — it was back up! Game on!

And then we overloaded the server. 

From that point on, it just never worked right. We hadn’t planned on that many people playing. My teen had been certain that the server he was building had enough RAM. I trusted his assessment. As I watched him feverishly work to figure out the problem, testing it one way, and then another, I tried to placate the rest of the kids, encouraging them to go back for another snack or just hang out until everything was up and running. He looked me in the eye, and with all of the emotion a 12 year old (yes! he is only 12!) boy can pack in one pitiful look, he was pleading for help. And there wasn’t a whole lot I could do.

It was humbling and I felt horrible. But we kept working through it. We declared the building competition postponed, shared the server address for people to use from home, and decided to give them one week to construct their ideal symbol of Minecraft, at which point I’ll email them all a survey and ask them to vote. ¬†Everyone seemed to leave happy, or at least happy enough in the case of my intrepid Coding Club teen.

On the one hand, it felt like a great failure that the program didn’t go how we planned and we ran into so many technical problems. But at the same time – what success! Great numbers, teen leadership and problem solving, a community began developing, a plan was made to continue the work started, and several people expressed interest in a repeat program.

But oh, my poor 12 year old, right? Maybe not. I pulled out my 40 Developmental Assets list, and started mentally checking them off. Other adult relationships? Supportive neighborhood? I was doing that. Community values youth; youth as a resource, service to others? Wow, this is going better than I thought! Planning and decision making, responsibility, involvement in youth programs… high expectations. And there it was. I had high expectations. It was crystal clear that I did. And he had high expectations of himself, he planned ahead, made executive decisions, and took responsibility for this youth program. This was a success, no doubt about it.

This year I’m taking part in ILEAD-USA, a months long leadership and technology workshop funded by a grant from the State of Illinois. One of the first things I learned there was the concept of Failing Forward. In this way of thinking, a perceived failure is not the end point; it’s the beginning of a new avenue of learning and growing. It’s hard to embrace. Just writing about it here was difficult – no one likes to admit that they’ve done something that turned out 180 degrees from where you planned for it to go. But we both learned so much from this experience. Not just about Minecraft, but about ourselves, each other, trust, perseverance, finding fun.. and RAM.


Middle Grade Mondays: 5 Things I Love Right Now, from a Tween

Robin broke her arm, in two places!, so we are punting for this week’s Middle Grade Monday.¬† So I gave my Tween homework: write a post about the things that you love right now.¬† I added some notes because she apparently is a minimalist.¬† But it is always good to know what your patrons are interested in and get their point of view.¬† So here you go . . .
Flappy Bird

A game where you have to get a bird through pipes without hitting them. It is hard, but fun.  All of my friends are playing it.
Karen’s note: It is hard, I have only gotten a 2 on it. This game is really popular right now among the Tween set.¬† It is simple in concept, but actually kind of difficult in execution.¬† And like Minecraft, mentioned below, it has kind of that old school video game feel to it.
You probably have heard of this but it’s a game where you build things and in survival mode try not to get killed.  I like the create mode because you make your own world.
Karen’s note: Minecraft has been around for a while and is of course very popular.¬† But the tweens around me have just discovered it.¬† They all come over and sit around playing on their iPads after school.¬† Here is a cool Pinterest board for Minecraft in the Library.
Wonder Struck
This book is about a boy whose mother is dead and so he goes to the city where his father lived.¬† It was brilliant and amazing.¬† I can’t stop talking about it.
Karen’s note: I had a copy of this laying around and she picked it up and started reading it.¬† She did a marathon read – couldn’t put it down – and read it all in one day.¬† It is a huge, daunting looking volume but a lot of it is pictures so it’s not as overwhelming as you would think.¬† She then spent days talking about how much she loved this book and has gotten all of her friends to read it.
The Land of Stories
Okay if you have not heard of this book stop reading this and get it, this book is amazing. So two kids get a story book and get stuck in it and have to stop an evil queen.  It includes a lot of fairy tale characters and twists.
Karen’s note:¬† For Christmas this year we drove from Texas to Ohio and she read The Land of Stories on the way.¬† She picked it out and purchased it as a Christmas gift from Christie, who of course got her a bookstore gift card for a gift because she is the best auntie ever.¬† She seriously loved this book.¬† And I know she has another friend who read and loved this book.
Dork Diaries
This book is about a girl who is not so popular in school and has a rival who is super mean.¬† It’s funny, and a quick read.
Karen’s note: These books are still really popular in my library.¬† I can’t keep them in on the shelves.
These books and games are super amazing so try them now.     

TPiB: Beneath the Surface Ideas for Tweens/Teens

Ah, February…¬† the time when every teen services specialist thinks of candy hearts, chocolate tastings, and OMG, we have HOW MANY DAYS UNTIL SUMMER?!?!??!¬† Do not fear!¬† We at Teen Librarian Toolbox have not one, not two, but EIGHT different ideas that would fit in with the 2013 Collaborate Summer Reading Program Theme (Beneath the Surface & Dig Into Reading)…

I happen to be in charge of everything (splitting the youth portion with my part time youth services librarian) and have had tremendous success with tween programs.¬† So for the summer I’m alternating between tween and teen nights.¬† However, any of these ideas can be aged up or down depending on your library, and what works for your patrons.¬† What works for me and mine may not work for you and yours.

Note:  All movie suggestions have been cleared through Movie Licensing USA, which is where my system gets their umbrella license.  If you do not have a public performance license, please use movies in the public domain.  Do not have the authorities pounding down your door.  Also, while the MPAA ratings are a guideline and not law, no movies suggested go above PG-13.


Superheros/secret identities 

  • Movie suggestions: DC Superheroes featuring Superman, Green Lantern, Batman– the first week of June Man of Steel is released in theaters so it would be a good tie in.¬† Marvel superheroes like The Avengers or Iron Man as Iron Man 3 will have been released in early May.

  • Craft suggestions:¬† create your own superhero emblem and place in a photo keychain, or utilize the system’s buttonmaker (start preparing the arm muscles), or get mask blanks and let them design their own costume piece

  • Game suggestions:¬† pin the cape on the superhero, name the secret identity, create your own superhero, get your own superhero name,¬† Marvel Monopoly


  • Movie Suggestions: anything zombie related, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or I am Legend (World War Z is released June 20)

  • Craft suggestions: create your own zombie heads with blank kickballs (hacky sacks for those of us who remember), or create a little felt zombie with some scraps and a house out of leftover candy tins.¬† Or check out Zombie Felties for a real craft project.¬†


Law enforcement

  • Movie Suggestions: The Lone Ranger comes out July 3, so you could pull in the western aspect with Wild Wild West, or go full force with S.W.A.T. or uber mysterious with Total Recall (2012)

  • Craft suggestions:¬† rattlesnake pulls, ID badges, finger print cards, create your own wanted poster

  • Game suggestions: Live Clue, mystery scavenger hunts, assassin

Shark week

  • Movie Suggestions: Really, what else is there but Jaws or the sequels?¬†

  • Craft suggestions: baby food jars plus plastic sharks=shark globes, or make your own shark teeth necklaces, design a shark bite

  • Game suggestions: shark bite tag, feed the shark (bean bag toss), shark volley


  • Movie Suggestion:¬† Wreck-It Ralph. Yes, seriously.¬† Yes, they are both video games, but if you have ever seen Minecraft, they build and build and build, and then take it down and tear it apart and then build and build and build.

  • Craft suggestions:¬† create your own Steve masks, fold your own Minecraft printables, build your own creepers

  • Game suggestions: Live Minecraft (gather boxes to build the fort, have some tweens be builders, and some be creepers and destroyers- see who wins), Creeper Bowling, after hours Minecraft gameplay


  • ¬†Movie Suggestions:¬† Jurassic Park, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Godzilla

  • Craft Suggestions:¬† Create your own dinosaur fossils, dinosaur bones out of pasta, design your own dinosaur heads

  • Game suggestions: bean bag toss with dinosaur eggs, hot dinosaur egg (hot potato), Lava tug-o-war between the herbivores and the carnivores


  • Movie Suggestions: The Mummy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Hotel Transylvania, Corpse Bride, Jumangi

  • Craft Suggestions:¬† create your own mummies,¬† cardboard tube mummies, potato chip tube mummies, create your own tombs (Check out the hieroglyphics section on this Art Through the Ages TPiB)

  • Game Suggestions: Musical chairs (Walk Like an Egyptian, King Tut, etc.), Mummy wrapping, hieroglyphics codes¬†

Spy party

  • Movie Suggestions:¬† Spy Kids, Inspector Gadget, James Bond movies or the Austin Powers series

  • Craft Suggestions: recyclables to make their own gadgets, finger printing, disguise printables

  • Game Suggestions: disguise relay races, spy training obstacle courses, hide and seek, assassin

    Adapt ideas from this CSI themed TPiB